Based in Gaydon, U.K., the Jaguar Design Studio is responsible for creating all of the legendary automaker’s nascent lines. But what to do when a pandemic risks rendering your spiffy new 39,000-square-foot design studio by Bennett Associates, complete with a Steve McQueen branded meeting room, obsolete less than a year upon arrival? Let’s take a look at how a little innovation can prevent a lot of renovation—and how an interiors team takes inspiration for material innovation from other sectors including sportswear, product creation, and architecture to bring new processes into automotive design—with Jaguar’s Alister Whelan, creative director for interior design, and Siobhan Hughes, chief designer for color and materials.
Interior Design: What has the response to COVID-19 been company-wide and how is it affecting your design process?
Alister Whelan: I think that [we] were very quick and pretty measured compared to a lot of places, looking back into March and how the U.K. started to go into lockdown and just speaking to some of my friends and neighbors. Even though none of us knew what to do, we had the empowerment within our own different functions to react to the situation. We were getting hourly changes of direction from the government and so I think we acted in a very responsible and positive way. In March, obviously, we just put our factories on hold for a little bit through April. We're just starting to gradually reopen some of our factories here in the U.K. and in Europe and China.
The manufacturing teams have done an amazing job with all of the health and safety procedures. They’ve shown an amazing spirit to get the cars up and running... I must say, it’s been quite an amazing but kind of a bizarre experience. Technology has proved that we can do this. We used Microsoft Teams, it’s a very secure and confidential system because everything in design is extremely tight, but it allowed us to remain very operational and efficient.
We’ve been doing some amazing digital presentations over other video conferencing [platforms, too]. Just to give you one amazing example, a couple of weeks ago I received something on an upcoming production car. And there was a chap also working from home who was the digital modeler. I had a team of engineers and another designer all be on this one call. The size of this CAD model was really intense because, obviously, it had lots of data on this interior that we were spinning around. Basically, I was spinning my mouse, which was controlling his computer—moving a real model around in space—and I could zoom in, shake it up, and talk with the engineers. We could cut sections and it was just absolutely phenomenal. It was like we never left the studio.
ID: Can you give an example of a similar situation, Siobhan?
Siobhan Hughes: First of all, we knew that this could work because over the years some designers have requested that they could work from home. But I don't think I ever thought that it could work in isolation. I always got to be in the studio.
A lot of what we do is very difficult to do digitally because, obviously, it's very invasive and people's screens haven't been calibrated to be exactly the same. For example, for the demonstration of an exterior color, we shot it digitally but then did a physical demonstration, socially-distanced of course, in the design garden for about five of us so we could make an informed decision.
ID: How do you foresee future and long-term changes being implemented as a result of the pandemic?
AW: As a team, we’ve been encouraged to use this time to kind of reset mentally and really force ourselves to question everything that we're doing from that perspective. We're also doing a lot of trend research at the minute and many of the teams are working from home. That's really interesting because they're not getting input from us, they are genuinely reading articles, looking at websites, seminars, and other stuff that is really thought provoking.
ID: Is there anything specific you can mention as far as trends you are seeing?
SH: There’s definitely a few examples on the health and well-being side, which was a huge trend already. So I think COVID is not necessarily creating any new trends, but rather it's accelerating the trends that were already in place by quickening implementation.
AW: There’s obviously electrification, the global sale of electric cars, and we're seeing a little bit of a resurgence in nostalgia—that kind of warmth and reassurance for a time and a place that's okay, rather than a world that is uncertain.
ID: So how does that specifically translate to colors and materials?
SH: We're seeing quite a lot of poppy, retro colors, and a resurgence of true colors alongside people wanting to have these very soft, gray sanctuaries as well.
ID: How do you balance that with sustainability?
SH: There are some colors that don't translate very well into a range of materials. So, you know, you're using more neutral colors and less material so you’re creating less waste while designing a seat. And we're also looking at waste-derived materials, and are really celebrating their inherent qualities. I think sustainability and design—when looking at this—makes you look at the aesthetic very differently than how you did before and accept some unusual beauty. And then of course [we use] renewable resources as well.
ID: Do you see these materials, for example, replacing leather or are they being added to the palette that you are already using?
SH: These materials can co-exist, but I think the landscape is changing. Customers are more discerning and they want to see new materials being introduced.
ID: When will we start seeing what we're talking about now actually in automobiles that are for sale?
AW: Typically in a design process it takes about four years from concept to creation. The average car has a cycle of about eight years, perhaps, and it takes about four years to go from that first sketch to reaching the road. I think our creativity has definitely been enhanced and our views on the world have definitely changed over the past 12 months since we've been in this studio and that will be apparent.
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